Bring an emergency credit card – International travel tip

Pickpockets and thieves are rampant in certain parts of the world. While falling prey to one is unlikely, it always helps to be prepared. I recommend activating a new credit card before departing on your trip.

Remember to notify the card company you’ll be leaving the country and always keep it in a secure spot — separate and apart from the rest of your travel money! — wherever you’re staying.

In the event your wallet is lost or stolen, you can rely on you emergency card for the remainder of your trip.

Sometimes, collecting frequent flyer miles with a credit card pays off

Are frequent flyer miles worth collecting anymore? I’ve asked that question elsewhere, and have been advocating the use of credit cards paying up to 5% cash back as a better alternative for many travelers who rack up most of their miles using airline-affiliated credit cards. For many people, now that there are new fees associated with cashing in miles, the answer is no.

Most of us travel domestic economy, and $25,000 spent on a frequent flyer credit card only gets you a domestic coach ticket, assuming you can even find available seats and aren’t paying a fee to cash in the miles at short notice or to redeposit them if you change your mind. That same $25,000 spent on a 5% cash back card gets you $750 which you can spend anyway you wish. You might even be able to find a seat to Hawaii. Try that with your frequent flyer miles.

So do I personally collect miles with a frequent flyer credit card? You bet I do. Recently, I applied for a British Airways Chase Visa card ($75 annual fee), but only because they were awarding 100,000 miles after you charged a paltry $2000 to the card (caveat: sadly, this offer is no longer available). My BA Executive Club account had something like 300 miles in it, so it was time to top it up. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere in particular, but just a few days ago I learned that my Oxford college was having a reunion, and I thought, fun, might as well go.

So I went to spend some miles. What I found at was pretty shocking. On the day in April that I wanted to fly from New York to London, I had exactly one option: a first class seat for 75,000 miles. And the return didn’t look much better, although there were several business class seats on BA’s new London City Airport to JFK all-business-class flight for 50,000 points. Award seats in economy (not that I was devastated) were sold out in both directions.

Needless to say, I didn’t have enough points, but BA kindly suggested that I buy the outward-bound first class flight with miles plus $285 in cash and $163 in fees and surcharges. Not that my return flight was free either. I got hit with a fuel surcharge plus taxes and fees of $358.

So my “free” flight, including the BA Chase card’s $75 fee, ended up costing me $881. Still, not bad considering that when I checked on, these same flights would have cost over $14,000 had I bought them with cash. Lesson learned: if you play your credit cards right, collecting frequent flyer miles with them can indeed pay off. Just don’t expect to have a lot of seat choice or to get something for nothing.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Double-check your credit card statement – Hotel tip

Hidden hotel charges can appear on a credit card statement weeks after your stay, even if you paid your balance at checkout. Generally, these phantom charges include amenities like Internet access and parking. Be sure to scan your credit card statement to be sure you were charged the correct amount — and not charged twice.

Also, be wary If you’ve used a voucher for a meal at the hotel restaurant; the discount may suddenly disappear. The worst offense I’ve personally experienced was when the shopping spree of another guest was charged to my room.

If this happens to you, just contact the billing department at the hotel. They understand that this happens and are happy to work with you.

Airport checkpoint nabs gang with 518 stolen Wal-Mart gift cards

To balance out some of the negative TSA checkpoint stories, I’m always happy when we stumble across some positive stories from the airport. In this story, TSA agents at Nashville airport noticed something strange in the luggage of a passenger, and got the local airport police involved.

Inside the suitcase was a stash of 518 Wal-mart gift cards. When police arrived at the checkpoint, six people were apprehended, but one of the gang members managed to escape and leave the airport. According to Nashville police, the gang used the Wal-Mart gift cards to act as “carriers” for stolen credit card information, and used the cards to purchase other gift cards. The total value of the stolen gift cards purchased could be well over $10,000.

The suspects have been charged with “conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of a credit card and conspiracy to commit identity theft”. Because of the extent of their crime, Nashville police are working with the United States Secret Service on the investigation.

It just goes to show how stupid some criminals are – despite managing to find stolen credit cards, and being “smart” enough to fly all over the country to commit their crime, they didn’t realize that the airport checkpoint agents may find their collection of gift cards a tad suspicious.

Check out these other great stories from AOL Travel

Ryanair blasted for “childish” payment system

Rarely does a week go by without some kind of news blasting Ryanair for something the low cost carrier did to annoy their customers.

This time, it all revolves around a silly payment method implemented by Ryanair. For years, the airline has been advertising its ultra low cost fares without mentioning additional fees or surcharges.

New regulations in the UK mean Ryanair has to include credit card payment fees in all its advertising materials – but sneaky Ryanair found a way around this rule.

By creating one free payment method, the airline can get away with advertising its tickets, without mentioning a GBP5 surcharge for each passenger that uses a credit card.

The “free” payment method is only available with a specific Mastercard prepaid card. All other payment methods are hit with the surcharge – for every single passenger, even if the tickets are all purchased on the same card.

The UK Office of Fair Trading investigated the matter, and called it “puerile and childish” – though I doubt Ryanair cares what anyone else thinks. The law is on their side, and they found a smart way around it. Sure, it may be a smart way that once again penalizes its customers, but at the end of the day, their fares are still substantially lower than any other European carrier.